Doha, Dubai, Kumasi — places that many students couldn’t locate on a map are fast becoming the hottest attractions for their colleges. In an effort to cater to an increasingly global world, universities big and small are rushing to get a foothold overseas. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to bring American higher education to foreign countries. To its credit, the University has been doing it the right way, by promoting a true cultural and intellectual exchange, not pressing its ideas on others. The Institute for Social Research’s partnership with Qatar University continues that trend, and should serve as a model for other universities to follow.
The latest in a string of new partnerships, the ISR’s program with Qatar University is a five-year effort aimed at helping Qatar University in Doha, Qatar establish a Social and Economic Survey Research Institute. Though the project is funded entirely by Qatar University, both sides stand to gain. Working with the ISR, one of the best social research centers in the United States, Qatar University hopes to build to a world-class center of its own. For the University of Michigan, the effort could open another opportunity for students to study overseas and will allow researchers a chance to study an increasingly important region.
This mutually beneficial partnership is exactly how it should be. This isn’t an effort to plant American ideals in far-away countries. Instead, this is a give and take between two cultures and institutions — exactly makes international programs worth the time and money.
The same can’t be said for many of the international programs sprouting up all over the world. For a bad example of globalized education, look no further than Education City, just outside of Doha. Education City is home to several U.S. satellite campuses, including branches of Cornell University and Michigan State University. Like domestic satellite campuses, many of these universities come complete with their flagship university’s name, faculty and governing philosophy. With name recognition and a lot of money behind them, these colleges have become very successful.
But this model merely exports American culture, crushing local universities. International programs should be about sharing information on both sides, not about globalizing the American experience.
As a note of caution, in the rush to move overseas, the University of Michigan should keep in mind what it already has back home. Flint may not sound as exotic as Doha, but it is important that the University not let its closer campuses and programs get lost in the shuffle. The University’s satellite campuses in Flint and Dearborn, as well as the new Semester in Detroit program, offer opportunities for diverse learning experiences that benefit students. The University can’t let these opportunities slip through the cracks because it is too busy looking across oceans.
Partnership programs should not be about world domination. They should be about increasing understanding and sharing education, information, and technology. They should be about improving ideas and facilities that develop the standard of living around the world — abroad and here at home. The ISR’s partnership is an excellent example of how to balance the University’s interests with those of a foreign campus — an example that other American universities should duplicate.